Before last week, the Kansas State men’s basketball team had not won a game since Dec. 29 against Omaha. The Wildcats (7-18, 3-13 Big 12) had lost 13-straight games when they bounced back to defeat TCU last Saturday and then picked up a shocking 62-57 upset win over No. 7 Oklahoma on Tuesday.
One of those 13 consecutive losses came at the hands of West Virginia on Jan. 23. It was one of KSU’s worst losses during that stretch, as the Mountaineers (16-6, 9-4) scored their largest-ever Big 12 road win, 69-47. That game was just over a month ago, yet no one on WVU thinks the result of their rematch Saturday will be another blowout.
“They’re one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 right now, they just beat an Oklahoma team that beat us twice,” junior guard Sean McNeil said Friday. “They’re not the same team that we played a couple of weeks ago.”
WVU was just getting off their flight home after defeating TCU on Tuesday when they learned that Kansas State had pulled off the upset over the Sooners.
“At this point, nothing catches me off guard anymore,” senior Taz Sherman said. “You see a lot of upsets, you see a lot of top-10 teams losing so nothing catches me off guard anymore. Us and them are the two hottest teams in the Big 12 right now. We can’t take them lightly.”
Kansas State’s issues this season have primarily come from how young and inexperienced the Wildcats’ roster is. KSU coach Bruce Weber plays just two upperclassmen – senior Mike McGuirl and junior Rudi Williams.
WVU coach Bob Huggins said this Kansas State team reminds him of the 2018-19 West Virginia team that was similarly very reliant on underclassmen. Despite finishing with a 15-21 record, the 2018-19 Mountaineers went on to win two games in the Big 12 tournament that season.
Huggins credited that tournament run to the cumulative experience then-freshmen Jordan McCabe, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Derek Culver built up throughout the season. He said he sees the same thing happening with the Wildcats this year.
“We struggled early and then by the end of the regular season, we go and make a run in the conference tournament because those guys had grown up alot,” Huggins said. “I think that’s where K-State it, they’ve grown up.”
Kansas State has also received a boost from the return of freshman guard Nijel Pack, the team’s leading scorer at 12.1 points per game. Pack missed KSU’s first meeting with WVU and is relied upon a lot for the Wildcats, averaging more than 30 minutes per game
“He is a shot-maker,” Huggins said. “He can shoot it off the bounce, he can shoot it off the catch, he shoots it with range, he’s good at driving it to the basket. He’s a really, really good-looking freshman, I really like the kid.”
Pack (12.1) and McGuirl (11.8) are Kansas State’s leading scorers and also lead the team in assists with over 80 each. Antonio Gordon (5.7) and DaJuan Gordon (5.6) lead the team in rebounding and seven-footer Davion Bradford leads with 12 blocks.
West Virginia and Kansas State will tipoff at 4 p.m. Saturday from the WVU Coliseum, the first of four straight home games the Mountaineers will close the season with. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.